Opinion | In Kerala, black almost becomes saffron

Opinion | In Kerala, black almost becomes saffron
(Left) Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and (right) BJP workers protesting infront of Secretariat. Photo: Manorama

In Uttar Pradesh, following the protests against former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma's uncalled-for remarks on the Prophet, the UP government continues to bulldoze the houses of specific individuals connected with the movement. We are bang in the middle of JCB politics.

So far, there have been no restraining comments from Narendra Modi or Amit Shah. Instead, to distract eyes and headlines, Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi was called in by the Enforcement Directorate for a 10-hour interrogation in connection with the National Herald property and money transaction cases.

In progressive Kerala, the ruling CPI(M) government, led by Pinarayi Vijayan, has been hard on protesting Congress workers, who believe that Vijayan is implicated in gold smuggling as stated by Swapna Suresh, who, since her release from jail in the gold-smuggling case, has been conducting a series of dramatic revelations in theatrical press conferences. She accuses the Vijayan government of persecution as well.

Since last Sunday, the wave of protests in Kerala led by the Congress party against Vijayan has been remarkable for two reasons. Last fortnight, the Congress candidate — and not much of a politician — Uma Thomas won the Thrikkakara Assembly by-poll beating the CPM candidate by a huge margin. The result partly was on account of her late husband P T Thomas, a legislator of great popularity. Partly, too, it was because of the increasingly strengthening movement against the Vijayan government's K-Rail initiative, a high-speed railway project connecting the southern and northern tips of Kerala. The acquisition of private land for the project had caused fears to run high.

BJP activists
Police personnel detain BJP activists during their protest demanding the resignation of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the wake of the allegations raised against him by Swapna Suresh, an accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case, in Kochi, Wednesday, June 8, 2022. Photo: PTI

The Swapna Suresh allegations fueled the fire. And somewhat blackened the image of Vijayan, who always wears white and has a rather clean image. That carefully cultivated image has taken a beating as the articulate Swapna Suresh 'revealed' that the gold smuggled in biriyani utensils from the UAE consul general's residence to that of the Chief Minister's had gold bars in them. A social media post said the metal alters the flavor of the meat for the better.

Swapna alleged that Vijayan's wife and daughter were involved in the Biriyani Gate scam. No matter how far-fetched the allegations prove to be, this is a gutsy woman.

Naturally, the well-oiled machinery of the party and the state reacted with the usual finesse: they went around arresting protestors by their hundreds. Lathis and water cannons were resorted to; Congress party offices were smashed. And black was declared virtually a banned colour.

Opinion | In Kerala, black almost becomes saffron
A Youth Congress worker shows black flag in protest against Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan at Kozhikode. Photo: Manorama

Last weekend, the chief minister who was on an extended road trip was greeted by men and women in black everywhere he went. Unofficially but demonstrably the CPM — and therefore state apparatuses like the police — declared black bad.

Congress leader in the state V D Satheesan said the colour black 'triggers psychosis in Vijayan'. On Monday, in the face of mounting protests, Vijayan said the people of Kerala could wear whichever colour they prefer. In short, he was giving permission where none was needed. It was all becoming both terrifying and comic, as power always tends to be after a point. In Kerala, as in Delhi or UP, that point has been reached.

In Kerala, progressive as it is, the Left is, by default, right. By and large, civil society is convinced that the Communist parties are historically the agencies of change. To a great extent, this is true. The widespread conviction in Kerala is that the BJP at the Centre (and by extension, states like UP) is fascist. Many in Kerala believe Swapna Suresh is backed either directly or indirectly by the BJP, a party desperate to find a foothold in the state.

Swapna, who portrays herself as a victim of high politics, indirectly has been instrumental in bringing the BJP and the Congress together against the CPM in Kerala, though elsewhere in India they are at loggerheads.

What unites them for the moment is the rather absolutist personality cult of Vijayan, who is often referred to as 'Modi in Mundu'. This brings me back to a point I have been harping on for long: barring exceptions, power is gender and party-neutral.

Mahila Congress
Mahila Congress activists take out a protest march to Kerala Secretariat, demanding resignation of the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the wake of allegations raised against him by Swapna Suresh, an accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case, in Thiruvananthapuram, Thursday, June 9, 2022. Photo: PTI

It is stupid to declare some sort of official disapproval of black and go on claiming you are the democratic and secular alternative to saffron, which is just another colour after all.

Just as it is even stupider and crueller to bulldoze houses of protesting Muslims in UP, or Delhi (which happened recently). But this is what power does, perhaps even demands. In any given situation, to consolidate or continue in power, a constant show of force is necessary. It is this spectacle – the spectacle of force on display – that enthrals the rank and file to believe that the stronger party is the winning party.

This aspect of power is true not just for political parties or corporates. It is true for race and gender. The protocol of power demands the display of strong words, guns, lathis, and bulldozers. A fallen man's defeat is usually just. It is just because he has fallen. Violence is a great rationalizing factor.

Bulldozer being used to demolish the residence of Javed Ahmed, a local leader who was allegedly the key conspirator of violent protests against now-suspended BJP leaders' remarks on Prophet Muhammad, in Prayagraj, Sunday, June 12, 2022. Photo: PTI

Kerala, like the rest of India, is going through a great upheaval. Filtered by a million social media views, we no longer know what the truth is. Our subjective reality is a constant flux. There are hundreds of thousands who believe that Armstrong never landed on the moon. Or that God created earth some 6000 years ago. In Delhi, Nupur Sharma propagates the belief that Islam is a lesser religion than Hinduism. In Kerala, the CPM believes wearing black is reactionary. It is perfectly possible to die thinking no man touched the moon, or that black is an inferior colour. Your truth is just what you fight for.

Delhi Police gives security to suspended BJP's Nupur Sharma, family
BJP Spokesperson Nupur Sharma during a programme at Delhi University. BJP suspended Sharma from party membership over her alleged remarks about Prophet Muhammad, on Sunday, June 5, 2022. PTI

There is ground to say these are times not to judge, but to doubt. Doubt others and doubt ourselves until proof is furnished. If we suspend judgment at least in the short run, we will believe the better in the long run. This is unlikely, of course. Which is why what's happening in Kerala is really no different from what is happening in the rest of India. We have become full-fledged exponents of bulldozer democracy. Let's stock up on JCBs.

(C P Surendran is an author and senior journalist. Views are personal.)

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